For Spicewood Beach, Dry is the New Normal
To get to Spicewood Beach from Austin, you first drive through the Hill Country. You’ll pass a parcel of land scorched by wildfire and drive over a Pedernales River that has been reduced to a trickle, with docks awkwardly resting on the dry riverbed. When you get to the rusty barbecue smoker with the Confederate flag waving from its stack, you’re almost there.
Once you arrive, you’ll find a verdant golf course (as long as it’s rained recently). When things are right at the lake, you can stand on the green and look out to a vast expanse of water. But when things are dry, as they’ve been over the last year, it looks like a curtain’s been pulled back unexpectedly. Instead of a swimming area and marina, you find yourself standing at an awkward cliff. Below is a sandy bed and boulders not used to seeing sunlight. To the south, stairs that used to lead to the lake now dangle in the air.
Since Spicewood Beach’s wells began to fail nearly a month ago, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), which owns and operates the water system, has been trucking water in to keep the taps running.
“So far, so good,” says Cathy Mull, who’s lived here about ten years, of the water hauling. “We’ve always had water since they started it.”
But just as they were getting used to the three or four truckloads a day, residents were warned things may soon have to change.
Ryan Rowney, manager of water operations at the LCRA, sent a letter to the residents of Spicewood Beach last week. “If water levels [in the well] continue to drop,” it read, “we may have to increase the number of trucks bringing water” to Spicewood Beach. The letter also warned that if “intense conservation measures are not strictly followed, we may need to initiate hauling operations at night.”
“My response to that is, drill a well,” says Ray Williamson, a Korean War veteran who’s lived here since 1976. Williamson says the main well for Spicewood Beach is too shallow, only going down about 70 feet. “So we’re really getting water from that lake, or what used to be a lake,” he says. “But we haven’t really had a lake here in two years. The answer is to drill a [deeper] well.”
Williamson says his house has been pretty good about keeping to the LCRA’s suggestion of using no more than fifty gallons of water a day. The average American household uses 400 gallons of water a day. LJ Honeycutt, another longtime resident, says he’s done the same. “I learned years ago to conserve water,” he says. “When you come up here in the country and find out how water gets to people, it makes you realize how these things can happen. Water is precious.”
“It’s been a booger,” says Williamson. “I’m 83 years old and I’ve never seen a drought like this. When Noah built his ark and the Lord destroyed the world by forty days and forty nights of rain, we got less than a quarter-inch,” he jokes.
The LCRA is hosting an “open house” for the people of Spicewood Beach Tuesday night, where residents can ask the LCRA questions about the future of their water supply.